PETALING JAYA: The late Rose Chan was undeniably Malaysia’s Queen of striptease when an accidental “wardrobe malfunction” - her bra snapped on stage - catapulted her to fame.
But to poet and human rights lawyer Cecil Rajendra, who wrote the autobiography No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story, which was launched on Sept 15, Rose was much more than just a stripper, as she was known for her various philanthropic works, great cooking and feisty attitude.
Rose Chan was born Chan Wai Chang in Soochow, China, in 1925 to acrobat parents. She arrived in Kuala Lumpur at the tender age of six.
Despite having no formal education, she demonstrated her entrepreneurial spirit at an early age of 12 by charging her classmates to have their photo taken.
After the failure of her first (arranged) marriage to an elderly Chinese contractor more than twice her age, a 17-year-old Rose became a cabaret dancer at Happy World in Singapore where she excelled as a dancer.
“Right from the beginning, Rose was always pushing the envelope. Even as a cabaret 'Taxi' dancer she was determined to master the Waltz, Mambo, Tango etc. which bore fruition when she was the runner-up in the Singapore Ballroom Dancing Championship of 1949,” said Rajendra.
After being a runner-up in a Miss Singapore beauty contest, Rose then decided to open her own show, touring the whole of Malaya at age 26.
Her turning point in her career came about after the famous “wardrobe malfunction” which earned her the title of Queen of striptease.
“She had absolute contempt for other strippers of the era who knew only how to shed their clothes but did not know how to dance, or tease,” said Rajendra.
“Further, she was not content in being just a dancer, but wanted to be a premier show-woman as well. Thus, her 'strongman' acts of wrestling with pythons, bending iron bars and having motorcycles ride over her body,” he added.
Cecil said that she was also the first woman in the region to have her body decorated with grease paint (to represent a snake) ala Eryka Badu.
“The Queen (Rose Chan) had many competitors but no real challengers for the title,” he said.
When asked how Rose had an impact on Malaysia, Rajendra said: “Sex is a common denominator of all races, irrespective of religion.
“After the horrors of the Japanese Occupation, I believe Rose Chan's shows provided a great unifying factor for the peoples of Malaya.”
Rajendra said that “people from all walks of life, station and religion” from all over Malaysia loved her performances and her shows were always packed.
“Her impact and influence was massive! She was well known not only in Asia, but also in Australia, France, England and America,” he said.
“Remember, she is still the only Asian icon whom a hit song was written; i.e. Rose, Rose, I Love You, sung by Frankie Laine, which reached the No. 3 spot in the American Pop Charts,” he added.
He said that during the 50s and 60s, at the height of Rose’s career, everyone in Asia and abroad were “more familiar with the Flower of Malaya i.e. Rose Chan than the geographical location of our country”.
Rose retired from doing her strip-tease shows in 1976 at the age of 51, and went on to manage various businesses.
But in 1980, when she was just 55, Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer and was given six to eighteen months to live.
That was when Rajendra met the legendary Flower of Malaya, introduced by Lee Ying, Rose’s former manager.
“Rose Chan was part of my schoolboy fantasies; in my mind she was a sex goddess on par with Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield,” he said.